The attack at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, resulting in four deaths including those of a visiting Israeli couple, has elevated once again the issue of anti-Semitism.
It comes against the background of recent studies of the subject, including one based on questions about attitudes toward Jews in various countries, another on Jews' sense of threat, and yet another that examined actual attacks attributed to anti-Semitism.
The findings support those who would emphasize the continued threat against Jews, as well as those who argue that the findings are complex, do not get at the heart of what might be anti-Semitism, or are meant to bolster political support for Israel and assure more donations to the organizations doing the research.
Among the headlines:
- Poll: 93% of Palestinians hold anti-Jewish beliefs
- Survey: One-quarter of the world harbors anti-Semitic sentiment
- Anti-Semitism should not be waved around like a propaganda tool
A critical article about one study (the Anti-Defamation League's survey of opinions in several countries) both suggests that the study may have exaggerated the problem, as well as failed to probe the sharpest kinds of anti-Semitism. On the one hand, the critic extrapolates from the ADL study that there are 70 anti-Semites for every Jew in the world. And on the other hand, he faults the study for not asking if people believe that Jews are descended from apes and pigs (preached by Muslim religious leaders) or killed Jesus (classic Christian anti-Semitism
Discussions of anti-Semitism ought to recognize its existence, and put it in context.
There is no doubt that Jews, and now perhaps especially Israelis figure prominently on lists of the world's demons. At the same time, Jews are close to if not at the very peak of religious/ethnic groups on the conventional social indicators, and Israel has climbed from poverty and profound threat to be a serious competitor by any measure of economic, cultural, scientific, medical, technological, and military capacity. Most Israelis have a decent, if not opulent standard of living, that ranks as middle class in international comparison.
Jews are not the only group to suffer from crimes of hate or discrimination. Blacks and Muslims may suffer more in western societies, and some African tribes suffer at the hands of other African tribes what is comparable to the darkest times of Jewish history.
Jews worry about the rise of anti-foreign political parties in Europe, but the greater emphasis of those parties is against Muslim and other African migrants than against Jews. Indeed, European Jews are among those supporting some right-wing parties out of their own concern about Muslims.
If some worry about the increase in racism among political activists in Europe, it is also fair to note the activities of Israeli Jews under the heading of "Price tag." The actions of these extremists include painting graffiti and otherwise vandalizing churches, mosques, and the property of Arabs. Rabbis who incite their followers against Christians on account of what happened centuries ago are prominent on Israel's list of embarrassments
The Holocaust sets Jews apart, and violence that targets Jews as well as the disproportionate criticism of Israel continues to justify our concerns about acceptance and security.
We can argue about the Jews' monopoly of suffering during the Holocaust, and if the experience of Armenians at the hands of the Turks and the more recent mass violence between African tribes or against African Christians in Muslim areas justify the label of "Holocaust."
Among the worries of Israeli Jews is the incidence of American Jews who affiliate with BDS and other campaigns that find Israel deserving of greater criticism or punishment than other countries that are demonstrably worse on matters of civil rights.
Among the most bizarre claims are those expressed to the Pope during his recent visit in Palestinian areas that Palestinians are protecting Christians against Jews, and that Jesus was the first Palestinian martyr to die at the hands of the Jews.
Among the accomplishments of Netanyahu during the Pope's visit was his response to efforts in Bethlehem to put all the blame for everything on Israel, and the Pope's touching the Palestinian side of the wall. The Prime Minister managed to alter the Pope's itinerary, led him briefly to the memorial for the victims of mostly Palestinian terror, and explained the function of the wall as working against the addition of more names to that memorial.
We should not expect a sea-change in the statements of the Vatican, the European Union, or the American State Department as a result of the Pope's visit, or in the efforts of Palestinians and Israelis to explain their narratives.
It is impossible to determine with precision the beginning of anti-Semitism. (Or anti-Judaic attitudes, which acquired the label of anti-Semitism only in recent centuries.) Some date it from the Gospels of the New Testament, but Josephus' Against Apion suggests that the classic themes were apparent in Greek communities before the spread of Christianity.
Reactions against the Holocaust may have produced a decline in anti-Semitism, especially in the formal doctrines of Christian churches. However, the Palestinians' fit with fashionable models in behalf of the weak, and their assiduous campaigns against Israel may have produced an upward tick.
Suspicions of thinking ourselves superior (Chosen People), the dual loyalties of Jews who are citizens of western countries, jealousy of economic success and the prominence of individual Jews, and certainty about our hidden agenda (Protocols) may be our chronic problems, somehow entered into others' cultural DNA, with our own affected by inherent insecurity.
We may have to live with anti-Semitism, even while continuing to study it and to condemn it.
Yet we should also recognize that we're living well.
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